NEW YORK — LeBron James threw his arms up in faux celebration Wednesday night after being informed he played his 772nd game as a Cleveland Cavalier, passing former teammate Zydrunas Ilgauskas for the all-time franchise lead.
Naturally, James was asked to analyze the defeat, Cleveland’s second in its past three games, this one coming to a Nets team that was missing leading scorer D’Angelo Russell for the night because of a right knee sprain. But he was also asked to comment on his latest career accomplishment.
“What does it mean? I’m available to my team,” James said. “I’m available to my teammates mostly every night. Every night I’m linked to ‘Big Z,’ a really good friend of mine. It’s pretty cool.”
What could be described as downright frigid was Cavs coach Tyronn Lue’s postgame mood after seeing his team give up 17 3-pointers to Brooklyn. It was the same number of 3s Chicago hit Tuesday against Cleveland when the Cavs had to rally from 14 down to win and also, eerily, the same number the Orlando Magic made when they routed the Cavs last weekend.
“These guys are NBA players,” Lue said. “If we don’t contest shots and get out to the 3-point line, they’re going to continue to make them. We come into the game, we told them they’re second in the league in attempts and they’re getting them up. We’re running around here worrying about getting the Brooklyn pick, they might want our pick.”
Lue was referencing the Nets’ 2018 first round pick that Cleveland received from the Boston Celtics as part of the Kyrie Irving trade. Every win that Brooklyn tallies this season ostensibly weakens the value of the asset the Cavs received. The Cavaliers giving the Nets one of those wins not only harms their present — in terms of the standings — but their future as well.
What can Lue do to turn things around?
“Keep showing them, keep preaching it,” he said. “Keep showing them. And if guys continue not to do it, then we’ve got to make some changes.”
Lue already made changes following the loss to the Magic, bringing JR Smith and Tristan Thompson from the bench to the starting lineup and putting point guard duties in James’ hands while Derrick Rose recovers from a left ankle sprain.
Smith was 1-for-9 in 28 minutes against the Nets and missed a wide-open go-ahead 3 with 33 seconds left. He is 2-for-17 since returning to first unit. Thompson had eight rebounds in 23 minutes Wednesday but also had the worst plus-minus of all the starters with a minus-11.
James, whose left ankle is fully healed after he missed four of the Cavs’ five-game exhibition schedule because of a sprain, was left to pick up the slack and helped close an 11-point deficit entering the fourth quarter by logging his 56th career triple-double. He finished with 29 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds, but he also coughed up eight turnovers in 42 minutes, and the ball went through him nearly every possession with Rose and Dwyane Wade (left knee contusion) out.
“It’s a lot of pressure to put on LeBron to have to handle the ball for 40 minutes,” Lue said. “That’s why I talk about playing the point guard position, it can wear you down. Unfortunately, that’s all we have right now until D-Rose gets back. Missing D-Rose, D-Wade, a guy who can handle the basketball, we kind of was put in the same position we’ve been in the last couple years. Hopefully we get D-Rose back and D-Wade back in the next game or two, and we go from there.”
And the Cavs, who finished second in the league in both 3-pointers made per game (13.0) and 3-point percentage (.384) last season, have to find a way to stop getting beat at their own game.
“That’s what this league is now,” James said. “This league is 3-point shot, and we’ve got to get adjusted to that and cover that line.”
Cleveland, with eight new players compared with last year’s team, has to learn how to rely on the outright franchise leader in games, minutes, points, assists, field goals made, field goal attempts, 3-pointers made, 3-point attempts, free throws made, free throw attempts, steals and turnovers without over relying on him.
“The reality is LeBron missed almost the whole preseason, and how we play, he really matters,” Kyle Korver said. “We got to learn to play off him well with all the new faces.”